Thursday, April 25, 2013

The I. T. Goes to Sinnar

I went to Sinnar yesterday for the first time. Actually it was Sinja, which is the capital locality in Sinnar. I was collected from home at around 6:40 a.m. and off we went. We were in 2 cars, and the one I was in had the lady who directed the Emergencies and Humanitarian Affairs in the federal ministry. It was the same team as last time (Port Sudan), minus the health insurance guy. The driver alternated speeds between 20 and 120 km/her, and I spent roughly 30% of the time in the air, since every few minutes we would go over a bump or wave in the road, and depending on the speed I would fly out of my seat and crash back down. Roads in Sudan have the strange property of rivers; they’re never completely flat. I tried to read for a while, then chatted a bit with the Emergencies lady, then tried to sleep, but mostly just looked out the window at the interesting scenery passing us by. On the way I counted the road kill: 6 dead dogs, 2 donkeys, 3 cows and 3 unidentified objects squashed in the middle of the road, one of which still had a tail and looked suspiciously like a skunk. I think I also saw a fox but I’m not sure. One of the cows was fresh (so to say) and looked like it had been hit no later than yesterday. As we zoomed past it I saw the look of utmost surprise and dismay on its face. It looked shocked. Like it had been lying dead on the side of the road for the past day or two and still couldn’t believe it had been run over. Then there were the live animals, walking around in all directions, both led and free roaming. It seems the entire area between Khartoum and Sinnar is occupied by herds and herders; there were dozens of them in all sizes. Some had dogs, some rode donkeys, some walked alongside or behind the herd. There were both goats and cattle. Most of the cattle were either brown or white, but once I saw a far off herd that were mostly black, and a few of them had those huge horns that I could see above the cloud of dust surrounding them. Once there was a herd of about a dozen cows walking unattended by either a dog or a person, walking in an organized group towards the road. The leading cow stopped near the road to wait for the rest of the cows to catch, and I could’ve sworn I saw those cows looking left and right down the road before crossing. A couple of small donkeys, on separate occasions, were seen trotting alongside the road, one of them looking suspiciously like it was trying to run away from the group it was attached to. The other one was white and hairy all over, looking like it was wearing thick rugby socks all the way up to its shoulders and hips.
Then there were people. A whole lot of people, mostly dirty, mostly shoeless, some riding and some walking, with bare clothes that didn’t match and looked rarely washed. But there were also old men in clean 3aragis, riding bikes or donkeys or rakshas. I saw about a thousand missed pictures and regretted not bringing my camera every second of the way. But to be honest at the speed we were going the picture would be lost in the past before I could have gotten my camera in place anyway. Like the small group of girls wearing different bright coloured dresses and carrying matching jerry cans on their heads, crossing a shallow ditch together. Or the 3 tiny kids on the 2 donkeys, also with jerry cans but tied on either side, riding beside the road. Once we passed next to a sort of forest with thin, tall bare trees, out of which emerged an old man leaning on a stick, walking with long, slow strides, followed a short distance away by a little kid who looked too small to even be standing upright unsupported, probably his grandson or great grandson. There were a couple of markets in the few towns that were close to the road, both with what looked like a livestock market with hundreds of people milling around with their animals.
The lady and the driver had both been covering epidemics emergencies for a while, and I listed to their stories of terribly haemorrhagic fevers, cholera, meningitis, and others. Apparently, every single disease known to man exists in Sudan. There was even an outbreak of Diptheria: a disease that’s supposed to be extinct. That, of course, had been in Darfour, where a large segment of the young population has never been vaccinated. Then she mentioned an incidence that made my blood freeze: pneumonia and haemorrhagic measles in gold miners in the North: the plague! Since nothing is ever regulated in Sudan, people have been randomly mining in all these weird places in the 21st century gold rush of Sudan. I’ve heard stories of hundreds dying, either getting lost in the desert and dying of thirst, or getting blown up with their own dynamite, or buried under a cave-in. But this was new. Apparently, in all that digging and messing around in places they shouldn’t be in, a few people have managed to find pockets of diseases from God knows where, and were bringing back home illnesses that have long been forgotten.
Eventually, we reached Sinnar and headed towards Sinja, where they had moved the capital to in an attempt to revive the less advantaged localities of the state. It was small and dirty, but had these cute traffic lights (on the wrong sides of the streets) at every other crossroads. I think with a little cleaning and some pavements it could be very nice. The other car with the undersecretary and his friends had gotten lost and were late, so we looked for a place to eat, and found a pizza parlour called Delicious (how original). It wasn’t too dirty and the food was good. The waiters were a couple of Ethiopians that looked fresh off the boat, and who were stuck to a couple of chairs and watching MTV. Eventually the other people showed up, and we were escorted by the head of some directorate and another head of another directorate to some health centre where we entered a tent, which turned out to be the opening of the state’s immunization week. Everyone gave a speech, during which I was surrounded by ‘Allaho Akbars!’ from the women in the crowd. Then everyone got up and walked into the next yard where the first vaccination of the week took place, the models of which were a bunch of little kids that were crying their little eyes out. The undersecretary was handed a syringe and I couldn’t hold back my laughter as he very seriously poked it into a little girl in a green dress’s arm, then picked her up sportily to try and make her shut up, then handed her back to her mother. Then we were whisked off to the ministry of health, where we met a whole lot of people and gave our presentations, took and answered questions, listened to suggestions, etc etc. We were then taken to a whole bunch of hospitals and dialysis centres, then back to the hospitality building where we had lunch. I was so bored I almost fell asleep at the table, but there was no way out. Then we were packed back into the cars and drove out to Sinnar to meet the Wali who was on his way back from some place or another, and in the meantime we were to inspect another building, where I stayed in the car and tried to work on the review I was supposed to have handed in the day before.
Finally, after about a zillion years, it was time to head home. The guy driving the other car was afraid of getting lost again, and insisted we drive slow enough for him to follow us at least to Medani. That meant we were moving at around 30 km/hr, at which rate we would easily reach home in 5 hours instead of 3. So we stopped about an hour out of Sinnar at one of the market place villages we had seen earlier in the day to have some tea and coffee. We found a male sit shay (for want of a better word) and ordered tea. I asked him if he has any powdered milk (cuz I hate fresh milk. Yeah, no healthy stuff for me), and he said, around here there ain’t no such thing as powdered milk, fresh bas. I sighed as the burnt smell of laban maganan came to my nose, and went back to my seat. Sure enough, along came the shay maganan, but to my horror in huge juice glasses filled to the brim, with some horrible half-burnt ligeimat. I ate and drank and tried not to throw up, and watched the drivers sitting a short distance from us. The guy driving our car was a young, short funny man with a nice sense of humour. From his easy talk with the lady accompanying me I figured he had been in the ministry for quite a while, and had been to some of the roughest places in the country with the Epidemics Emergency team the lady had served in. In the car he was confident and at ease, remembering stories from those terrible days when they were battling death on each side, trying to deliver medicine in muddy forests, getting pulled out by tractors and carried on rickety ships, and other stories of adventure. That was when it was just me and the other lady. But when the rest of the group was assembled, which contained some of the most important men in the ministry, he cautiously came over and said hello and then sat behind us with the other driver. They had ordered coffee but the tea man had brought 2 wrong orders for our group of tea, so the undersecretary passed it over to the drivers, and they meekly took the glasses without a complaint. Then, when it was time to go, the other driver came over and told us not to pay because he already had, to which one of the men simply said ‘yes, ok’, and nothing else. Not even a thank you, or don’t worry about it, or anything.
Anyway. The trip back home was terrifying, because once the other driver had been confident enough to let us out of his sight, our driver put the pedal to the metal and catapulted us into the future. It was pitch dark, even when we passed the few villages near the road where all you could see where the alien spaceship-like minarets of the mosques, with their slanted long lights hanging high up in the gloom. I couldn’t see any further than about 2 meters ahead of us, and waited patiently to crash into something or someone or get flipped over, but thankfully we didn’t. At one point we screeched to an almost complete halt, narrowly avoiding a couple of white donkeys that were just standing in the middle of the road and biting each others’ ears. I tried to count their legs to make sure there were just 8 of them, but couldn’t be sure. I doubted they were just donkeys, showing up in the middle of the road like that; I’m still pretty sure they must’ve been ba3a3eet. Anyway, after that I put my head down on the backseat and stayed down until we had reached home. I think I slept for a few minutes on the way, but couldn’t be sure. It was past midnight when we reached home. At the door, I was informed that I had received a gift (along with everyone else on the team) from the state, in the form of a small carton of lemons and a big carton of mangoes, freshly picked.
Actually I had been expecting money but this wasn’t too bad.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thoughts Of A Kitty Killer

"I shall haunt you forever, and ever, and ever, and eve...."

I’m being haunted by that little kitty I ran over. I see cats everywhere now: every plastic bag or torn bit of tire on the side of the street is a dead kitten, looking at me accusingly, meowing at me: 'why did you run me overrrrrr?' That poor kitty! ='(

Anyway. Someone once told me that our beloved Keizan (I’m being sarcastic) believe that they and they alone are entitled to the name ‘Muslims’. I didn’t think this makes any sense, but being in a job in which I am literally surrounded by them, and see more of them than I would like, I have found this to be true. There is one particularly annoying habit of theirs that I find quite insulting: it’s their always finding it necessary to give advice on how to practice Islam, or something like it. An example of this and one that irritates me the most is when advising me on how to improve my Arabic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my Arabic, it’s just that my English is relatively better. Twice I have been condescenignyl advised that if I read Quran I will automatically improve my Arabic. Excuse me? IF I read Quran? And who are you to judge that I don’t and give me such a piece of advice? Today we were at this excruciatingly boring workshop with a whole bunch of important people from the ministries of health and foreign affairs, as well as several ambassadors and health attaches to embassies all over the world. There were a few activities that involved group work, and then one person from the group to report that group’s results, and I was chosen for this last task. Which of course attracted some attention, with people asking the usual question of jibti alingileezi da min wein? Etc. I’m used to that (‘cause this is Sudan, and because I’m used to being called awesome), but what I wasn’t prepared for was the following comment, on how I had learned Arabic:
‘Low kano (my parents) 3alamoki Quran konti it3alamti 3arabi 6awali.’ Meaning, if my parents had taught me Quran while trying to hammer the Arabic into my thick head, I would’ve learnt the language right away. The person who gave this piece of advice is a relatively high ranking person in the ministry (I’m not sure where he stands in the NCP), and one whom is known to always quote Quran verses and speech from the Prophet (SAWS). It was quite lucky for him that I actually didn’t hear that comment and only registered it a few minutes later. I told him that actually, I did learn Quran before learning Arabic and was lucky enough to be taught by an excellent woman who also taught Tajweed and proper pronunciation. The result of which was that I actually articulate the language much better than those who’ve been speaking it their whole lives; just not as proficiently as English. He then smiled smugly and I walked away. Later, while I was praying, it occurred to me that I should’ve given him a different answer. I would’ve liked to have told him that my parents have nothing to do with the Islamic Movement, but that my dad has the whole Book by heart and revises regularly with his friends, and they all finish it once a week, every week, for the past 20+ years. That’s 52 times a year, for around 22 years, which is 1144 times. And that’s just what he reads with his friends, not what he reads alone and on Fridays and Ramadan and other special times. I should’ve asked him how many times HE managed to read the Quran off the top of his head, and how regularly he finishes his recitals. I’m willing to bet my parents know more about this religion than he could dream of knowing, practice it better than he would figure, and that we all identify ourselves as Muslims not because we belong to some movement but because it’s simply who we are. It is insulting and condescending and downright irritating the way these people assume they are better than you because of their affiliation, and that this religion is theirs to advise people to make use of. Into gayleen rou7kom mino? If it wasn’t for that stupid scarf I was wearing today I would’ve heard him properly the first time and probably would’ve managed to put him in his place.
On the other hand you have the other extreme of stupid people who immediately assume I am a koza and insist that I am, just because of my 7ijab and that I don’t shake hands with men. Any religious activity (starting from basic prayers) is for them a tell-tale sign that confirms their beliefs. And, of course, it’s a bad thing. This is how deep people have been affected by this regime and its ruling: everything remotely related to Islam has been tied to them in some warped way, and anyone following these broad lines is comfortably shoved into the same category. And since all the thieving and lying and hypocrisy have been done in the name of Islam, than that’s what we automatically are. Again, who are you to make such an accusation? Into gayleen rou7kom mino?

The point of this post is: keep your condescending advice and ignorant judgement to yourself. And does anyone have any advice on how to get over feline murder?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bishbish Degage!

Doesn't this picture make you want to punch something?

I wrote this post a few days ago and now I can’t find it, and that annoys me. Anyway, I was driving to a meeting in the ministry the other day and my boss didn’t have a car so I gave him a ride. This is the same guy whom I went to Port Sudan with and who told me that story about the state ministers who didn’t want to go to court over a breach in the constitution (e7na 7alab wala 3arab?). Anyway, we discussed several work-related matters, then it came into my head to ask him about a rumour I had heard of Albashir running for presidency again next year, after announcing that he was stepping down. My boss was surprised, and said he hadn’t heard of such a thing. Which pretty much meant that it wasn’t true, because if it was, he would’ve known about it before 99% of the government. So I asked him, do you think he should? Which of course made him immediately ask me what I thought. As usual, when talking politics (which I admit I know nothing about), I tried to sound cautiously intelligent, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t. I said I don’t think he should run again, but also that I don’t think the problem is just about him, it’s about the whole party. So even if he leaves someone else from the same gang will just carry on this legacy of destruction that’s been in place for the past 24 years. What he said in reply was mix of agreement with my opinion, the admission that it is not who leads the government but how it is led, that a large part of the problem is with the Sudanese culture (akhoy wu akhok wu kolana 7abayib), and other things. He thinks Albashir should run for presidency again. The choice of the next leader would depend on whether they augment the positive beliefs of the party or the negative, and Albashir is a good choice because, first of all, he’s nice. People like him. He’s approachable, feels strongly about community issues, and is more or less down to earth. Not like other candidates such as Ali Osman and Nafi3, whom aren’t that liked even within the party, let alone the country. Just imagine: Nafi3 for president! Bari ya yumma. I’m not saying I agree with the guy, I’m just saying what he said. Second, he’s all up for ‘positive change’, and genuinely wants reform. I don’t know what logic backs up this particular claim, because you can’t want reform for a mess that you created and continue to create. That just doesn’t make sense. But anyway, that’s what language the president is speaking. I carefully reminded my boss of this fact, and that people generally don’t trust the president or the party anymore, because all we’ve seen from them is dishonesty and greed. Like what? Well, like the financial corruption that is so blatant and in-your-face, it’s disgusting. All the money that pours into the system every single day, without a penny of public services seen anywhere. He reluctantly agreed that yes, financial corruption is a problem. So what is your president doing about it (other than being an actual part of it)? Well, he did call for that investigative committee to look into it. I almost laughed at that. Investigative committee indeed. And what has this committee found and done so far? Well, not very much, for the ‘confusing’ reason that those hindering its progress are memb
ers of the party themselves. There was a great big fuss over its formation in the first place because so many people didn’t want anyone investigating anything. Which obviously meant that either they are all corrupt or indirectly benefit from this corruption. This is something that we as your garden variety citizens take as a fact, but it’s quite strange to hear it being said out loud from a party member.
Not a minute too late, Ghazi Salahaddin woke up from his own 24 year long coma and wrote an article giving advice about how to choose the next president. This guy was a big shot in the party for just about forever but recently fell out with his friends and was unceremoniously expelled from the various important posts that he held, including heading parliament; the act of which helped wake him up and compelled him to urge the people to take the mission of choosing their next president seriously. He talks about the importance of this role and how new blood is needed, but also how the president has a chance to win the people back over by heading a serious reform of the system before it’s too late, and ends his article with a rather affectionate reference to the current president. I don’t think he’s over him, really.
Anyway. The discussion (with my boss) was interesting, but it didn’t give me anything new, except for one curious fact. He asked me if I was interesting in politics, and I said yes, everyone is. Everyone? Well, yeah, cuz in Sudan even if you’re not it’s still in your face and there’s no way out of it. So like, there are lots of young people who are interested? I can honestly never tell how it is with my boss, because he looks so benign and harmless and old, but you can never tell what’s going on behind those glasses, and if he really is as innocent as he acts. I tell him that yes, a lot of young Sudanese men and women follow our political situation closely, and that they are not at all satisfied with the government or with Albashir.
They’re not?!?
This confused me, because it’s no secret that many people hate the government. That was the whole point behind the revolts and the numerous coup attempts and why people aren’t very nice in the newspapers. But apparently, this was news. The general impression I got was that these people genuinely think that they’re doing good things and that people like them. Every time I see/hear this I remember that yes, that’s probably right on that planet they live on. And who would blame them anyway? They practically own 80% of the country, and the remaining 20% wants to stay in their good books because they do them favours. Also, have you ever seen a demonstration supporting the government? No wonder they think they’re so popular.
The fact is that, Albashir is leaving sooner or later, and by the look of things it’s probably sooner. Even if he doesn’t step down, he’ll probably die, because no one lives forever. Either ways, he’s leaving, and the seat is up for grabs. I can tell you right now who’ll be running for presidency next April: the same people that have been running for the past 30 years, who are also dangerously near their graves (wala3mar biyad Allah), and whom if they have any sense in those grey heads of theirs, will have at least tutored a younger version of themselves to represent them if they win. I seriously don’t know if it’s better that the NCP pack up and leave anymore, but I can tell you that they’re not going anywhere anyway. Every day in this country shows me that there is not an inch left they haven’t gotten hold of. If they do actually leave, the place will literally collapse, simply because there will be no one left. I’m not saying they should stay, I’m just saying that uprooting them is a very, VERY difficult thing to do.

And yet, there is hope, it seems.

Also, read Osman's excellent post!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

About The Boston Bombings

You're right about that!
A whole lot of interesting articles are showing up on my Facebook homepage (cuz that’s the only social life I have) about these bombings. Amy Davidson from the New York Times is writing about some Saudi kid who got caught after being injured in the blast and cast as the case’s first ‘suspect’, and how wrong that is. And then, an even more interesting article from The Guardian by Glenn Greenwald, annoyed that everyone was so quick to blame the Muslims, how irresponsible the media is/was in enforcing this assumption, and how Americans just can’t seem to register the fact that THEIR government is bombing people in places other than Boston. Ok, is it just me, or are there a whole lot of people out there condemning the oh-so-predictable-and-unimaginative-Western-world’s-reaction to the Boston bombings? Notice, they’re condemning the reactions, not the bombings. I mean, of course they condemn the bombings, but notice that they also condemn the reactions to it (if you still haven’t figured out what I mean, I’m talking about the typical blaming of Muslim individuals/groups without the least bit of evidence anywhere). And it isn’t Arabic or Muslim writers/bloggers/journalists, its home grown Westerners (doing the condemning). I find this interesting, because for the first time in a long time I’m reading phrases like, “These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid,” as a comment to everyone being so upset about the Boston bombings but not bothering in the least with the zillions of people being blast to pieces all over Iraq and Afghanistan, and like, “There are people at Guantanamo who have also been cleared by our own government, and are still there.” Guantanamo? Ho billai that place still exists? People generally either don’t remember or don’t care about all the people in those orange jumpsuits locked up indefinitely with no one to help them but God.
I would like to write a long and intelligent-sounding post on this matter, and try and analyse the logic behind this strange new phenomenon, but I can’t. I just find it curiously interesting that not just the articles surfacing, but also the comments to those articles, are slowly starting to change. Of course, there are your usual idiotic anti-Islam rants from people who fearlessly risk their looking extremely stupid in order to deliver their timeless message of patriotism and purity, but still.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel a deep rage about these bombings and shootings and for the life of me can’t fathom the point of killing children or even adults just to prove a point. But I feel the same about children and adults elsewhere in the world getting bombed to smithereens by Americans or Brits or whatever, also just to prove a point. I can’t remember the last time I watched the news because it’s all about dead people. Lots of dead people. And yet, there is hope, it seems.